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NHL Toronto Maple Leafs

5 Holiday Gifts For The Toronto Maple Leafs

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5 Holiday Gifts For the Toronto Maple Leafs

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs are in desperate need of a holiday miracle if they want to turn around their recent struggles entering the second half of the season.

The Maple Leafs have only won four games in December, enduring a dreadful part of the schedule with key players rotating in and out of the lineup. Toronto’s strong start to the season, where they went 10-4 in October, is the only reason the team has been able to cling to the final wildcard playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

With an 18-16-5 record, the Maple Leafs need to turn things around in a hurry before other teams overtake them for the final wildcard spot. There's very little room for error remaining for Toronto, as the teams behind them in the standings have closed the gap, with the New York Rangers now only three points behind the Maple Leafs.

The main issue for Toronto seems to be their inability to close out the final 20 minutes of games. The third period has resulted in numerous, heartbreaking moments in the past month, with the Maple Leafs giving up late game-winning goals or allowing the game-tying goal in the final minutes. If there’s any holiday magic surrounding this team, it’ll certainly need to provide them with the ability to confidently play in the final period during the second half of the season.

Unfortunately, Toronto needs to put themselves in position to have success in the third period, and that hasn’t always been the case given a pair of recent blowout losses. Therefore, here are five other holiday gifts the Maple Leafs could use in order to earn a playoff berth in 2014.

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5. Contract Extension For Dion Phaneuf

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

After Phil Kessel signed a contract extension, it was thought Dion Phaneuf’s extension wouldn’t be far behind. Midway through the season, there have been plenty of rumors, but still no extension for Toronto’s captain. The Maple Leafs need to get Phaneuf signed to help solidify his presence on Toronto’s blue-line, but more importantly, they need to get him signed in order to remove the unquestionable distraction it’ll become at the trade deadline. If the Maple Leafs can sign him for the rumored seven-year, $49 million contract, then they should count their blessings, because some small market team will give him $8 million per year in the summer just to market his name value; Toronto can’t afford that type or contact, nor can they afford to lose him.

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4. Consistency Of Phil Kessel

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of the Kessel extension, the American sniper’s play after he signed his eight-year deal was phenomenal throughout October. Kessel finished the first month of the season with 18 points in 14 games, however, he’s only recorded 15 points in 25 games since. Although Kessel is a notoriously streaky player, they need more consistency from their best offensive talent in the second -half of the year. If Toronto gets another six point month from Kessel like they got from him in November, they’ll undoubtedly be on the outside looking in of the playoffs.

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3. Wins On The Road

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Maple Leafs own a 6-8-4 road record, but haven't had much of a fighting chance lately, as they've only won once on the road since Halloween. Part of what made Toronto successful in October was their ability to go 5-2 away from the Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs must find success again on the road, as eight of their 15 games in January will come away from home, including a four-game Western road trip. If Toronto can’t fix their road struggles, then they will likely be on the wrong side of the playoff picture by the Olympic break unless Santa left a few future road wins under the tree.

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2. Name A No. 1 Goaltender

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the most likely holiday gift the Maple Leafs can receive would be finally naming a No. 1 goaltender for the club. Toronto has endured the distraction of who will be the team’s starter for far too long, and now that they’ve reached the midway point of the season, it is time to name a true No. 1 goaltender. Neither James Reimer nor Jonathan Bernier have been given an opportunity to string together five or six straight games, as the duo has continuously rotated between the pipes. Sharing the workload was helping the team at the start of the year, but it’s obvious that it’s no longer working, as neither goaltender can maintain any rhythm with their play. With the team appearing to play better with Bernier in net, given his superior puck handling and rebound control compared to Reimer, the Maple Leafs should give their offseason acquisition the chance to play multiple games in a row.

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1. Health

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The one thing the Maple Leafs would love more than anything this holiday season would be to see their banged up roster regain a healthy form. Life without Tyler Bozak and Dave Bolland hasn’t been pretty, as Toronto’s center position is severely missing the pair of defensive checkers. The Maple Leafs were at their best when their top three centers were in the lineup, but they haven’t had all three of Bozak, Bolland and Nazem Kadri in the lineup since October. Toronto’s best chance at returning to the playoffs and their greatest gift this holiday season would be to see Bozak and Bolland return to the lineup healthy and ready to battle in the second half of the season.